I finally got back in the kitchen to make something more interesting than my summer fat loss contest staples of salmon burgers and Fattousch Salad. This meal wasn’t really planned ahead of time, though. It basically came out of poor planning, a couple of things I bought independently, and a sample my mom sent home with me on Labor Day.

I’m a complete sucker for spaghetti squash. As much as I love pasta, I substitute spaghetti squash for it fairly often. So I bought a spaghetti squash at the store, but neglected to get any tomato products. Luckily, I had made a purchase of eight large paste tomatoes (I’m nearly certain they were San Marzanos) from Munson Farms over the weekend as well. Of course I would use some of my Chesnok Red garlic from Wee Bee Farms, because a good, bold hardneck garlic is always perfect for tomato sauce.

As I pondered my sauce, I started wondering what would happen if I threw in some of the pesto my mom made with basil from her neighbor’s garden. Hmmm…could be intriguing. Would certainly make it richer. So I had my ingredient plan. But the thought of standing in front of a hot stove on a 90 degree day while I cooked down fresh tomatoes didn’t really appeal to me. That’s what the grill is for, right? I read an article somewhere last year that said you could grill almost anything. I couldn’t remember exactly what they grilled for the article, but surely tomatoes would be fine. Plus they’d have a nice grilled flavor, which sounded great. I figured I’d peel the excess papery stuff off of a couple small heads of garlic and throw that on as well. And then I’d finish it off on the stove. (I’ve tried both roasting in the oven and microwaving, and given the HUGE amount of time it seems to take in the oven, I’m all about microwaving it these days).

Tomatoes and Garlic on the Grill

Tomatoes and Garlic on the Grill

I grilled the tomatoes on a medium heat, turning them by about a quarter whenever they got charred. Total time, maybe around fifteen minutes. While they were grilling, I cut the spaghetti squash in half, scooped out the seeds, and poked the shell a bunch of times with a knife, so it would be ready to microwave.

Once sufficiently charred, I took the tomatoes and garlic off (the garlic didn’t char, but got nice and soft – perfect). Then I started microwaving the spaghetti squash (checking it after about 8 minutes, and then every couple of minutes by poking the shell with a fork), and heated about a teaspoon of olive oil in a skillet. I removed the tough core stuff around the end of the tomatoes (which were quite hot, so I pondered removing them before grilling in the future, but that might have made grilling a bit messier), and took the roasted garlic cloves out of their peels and minced them. Then I added all of it to the skillet. Since they were nice and soft, I just smashed the tomatoes with a wooden spoon.

Grilled Tomatoes and Garlic, with a Bit of Pesto

Grilled Tomatoes and Garlic, with a Bit of Pesto

After everything was broken down fairly well, I added 4 teaspoons of pesto, and continued cooking the sauce down on medium heat until it reduced by about a third.

Grilled Tomato and Pesto Sauce Cooked Down

Grilled Tomato and Pesto Sauce Cooked Down

Once my spaghetti squash was nice and tender, I used a fork to turn it into squash pasta, then topped it with my sauce. The sauce turned out really well between the fresh tomatoes, grilled flavor, and the richness of the pesto. Not bad for non-planned!

Spaghetti Squash with Grilled Tomato and Pesto Sauce

Spaghetti Squash with Grilled Tomato and Pesto Sauce

I’d actually be a really lousy squirrel, because this amount of food wouldn’t last me long, but I still did more than I ever have before in terms of saving food for the winter. In past years, once the farm stands were done selling tomatoes and delicata squash for the year, I started getting all of my produce from the grocery store. So after sometime around October, it was back to standard, grocery store vegetables. This year I decided to try to do a little planning ahead so we would have at least a few bites of Farmers’ Market produce later on in the year. I don’t feel up to taking on canning yet, but that still leaves freezing!

A few weeks ago, I bought about nine pounds of heirloom tomatoes at the Boulder Farmers’ Market from Far Out Gardens (whose tomatoes are divine), and made a huge batch of tomato sauce. I used my usual recipe, utilizing onions and some wonderful, strong-flavored garlic from the Farmers’ Market as well. I kept enough sauce for a pasta dish during the week, and then put 2-person sized portions into freezer bags, and stacked them on the fast freeze shelf to set up. A couple of weeks later (but before the recent snow), I went to the Boulder Farmers’ Market expecting to find no tomatoes whatsoever, but Growing Gardens had two boxes of paste tomatoes. Some were a little overripe, but I found about four pounds of really nice ones. So I made another batch of tomato sauce, albeit smaller, and got another pasta dish and two more freezer bags out of it.

Local Heirloom Tomatoes for Tomato Sauce

Heirloom Tomatoes for Tomato Sauce

I just loved the colorful array of tomatoes. They looked even cooler after I dropped them in boiling water to loosen the skins and peeled them.

Peeled Heirloom Tomatoes

Peeled Heirloom Tomatoes

I started out using our big (and tall) soup pot to cook the large batch, but it was taking absolutely forever to cook down, so I transferred it into our large, rounded (and wide) saute pan, so there was more surface area exposed to the air. It still took about 3 hours to make the larger batch, but was well worth it!

Cooking down the tomatoes

Cooking Down Tomatoes

Getting the tomato sauce into freezer bags was a bit messier in reality than I imagined it beforehand, picturing myself competently transferring it without any spills and no waste. But after I got out as much air as I could and sealed them up, cleanup of the outside of the bags (and the counters) wasn’t too bad, and I didn’t lose too much sauce.

Frozen Tomato Sauce

Frozen Tomato Sauce

My other big freezing endeavor was to make pumpkin puree out of a gorgeous (and purportedly sweet) pumpkin I bought at Munson Farms.

Pumpkin

My Gorgeous Blue-Grey-Green Pumpkin

I actually started laughing about half-way through cutting this thing up. I read some column or essay or book at some time where a woman was talking about how she decided to make a pumpkin pie from scratch, scoffing at all the people using a 15 oz can of pumpkin (or as my husband calls it, cylindrical pumpkin). Then at some point she became overwhelmed by the amount of effort, and started wishing more than anything that she had a 15 oz can of pumpkin. As I finished cutting up the first half, I totally understood where she was coming from. And I also figured out why most of the pages I found on the internet with information on how to roast pumpkin indicated that you should pick a couple of those small pie pumpkins. These big pumpkins have dense, robust shells! After I finished cutting it into smaller pieces, I cut the shell off, and arranged the pieces on a couple of baking sheets. I didn’t use oil or anything additional, I just put them right into the oven as is (about 350-375 degrees), and baked them until they were tender.

Pumpkin ready to be roasted

Pumpkin Ready to be Roasted

Then came the puréeing. And more puréeing. And still more puréeing. I had never gotten to know my food processor quite this intimately before, but I can say we’ve seen each other in some messy situations now. I’m never very good about keeping my hands clean when it deals with transferring stuff into and out of a food processor (or into freezer bags (see above)), so there was a lot of pumpkin puree on the processor handle, the cover, the counters, the cupboards. But, once it was done, I had the four bags below (about 1-15 oz can each), plus three more 15-oz cans’ worth in a plastic container for pumpkin bread and pumpkin soup this week. And it really is a very tasty pumpkin. The stuff out of the can doesn’t taste very sweet at all, but this definitely has a bit of sweetness. I’m looking forward to cooking and baking with it. So all in all, a very successful pumpkin purée making experience (albeit a little laborious and messy).

Pumpkin puree ready to freeze

Pumpkin Puree, Ready to Freeze

My other preemptive winter preparation was to purchase 2 $5 bags of gorgeous, spicy garlic from Wee Bee Farms. Each bag was 6 cloves, so I should be good for about 8-12 weeks, depending on how garlicky I am in the months to come. I love this garlic – you can tell as you peel it and chop into it how much more fragrant it is than the usual common grocery store garlic. And I checked the storage information for the kind I bought to make sure it would be good through December or January.

Garlic from Wee Bee Farms

Garlic from Wee Bee Farms

I was talking to a fellow local produce lover last week when she brought up the fact that pretty soon we won’t have local tomatoes. We’ll just have the pale imposters you get at the supermarket. I guess I’d been unconsciously avoiding that thought, because after she brought it up, I started to feel a little panicky. What am I going to do when the heirloom tomatoes are gone? NOOOO! So, with that in mind, I set out for the Farmers’ Market this past Saturday with one primary goal. To buy a large bunch of heirloom tomatoes and a spaghetti squash, and to make ‘pasta’ with tomato sauce. (I know I’ve done a couple of posts about tomato sauce in the past, but this turned out to be the best I’ve made to date, so I figured I’d go ahead and post it). The previous week I bought quite a few paste tomatoes from Far Out Gardens at the Boulder Farmers’ Market, and they were great tasting. (Paste tomatoes generally have fewer seeds and are well suited for sauces. Roma tomatoes and San Marzano tomatoes are two well-known paste varieties). So I returned to Far Out Gardens and filled a bag with a large variety of heirloom tomatoes of the paste variety, and some others as well. (They were about out of paste tomatoes, or I would have gotten more of them). I also found a gorgeous spaghetti squash at Red Wagon Farm, got some garlic from Wee Bee Farms, and grabbed an onion at Oxford Gardens (at least I think it was – seriously, I need to take a notebook with me – I always forget where I got something or other. (Have you noticed how much I love parentheses? Bad writing style? Sure! Will I keep using them anyway? You bet!))

I bought a few other things at the Farmers’ Market as well – my usual cupcakes and pasta, more winter squash, and a few other assorted vegetables.

Boulder Farmers' Market purchases - October 1, 2011

Boulder Farmers' Market purchases - October 1, 2011

To go with my spaghetti squash and tomato sauce, I made salads. It’s been quite fun eating salads with fresh greens this summer, and finding ways to make them look different each week. I’ve been trying to buy colorful carrots or tomatoes to use for that. A couple of weeks ago, just because I hadn’t heard of it before, I purchased a watermelon radish, which is certainly a strange little thing. It looks kind of like a big round Japanese turnip (white on the outside), but when you cut it open, it’s a bright pinkish red. If you cut the slices in half, it’s obvious where the name watermelon radish originated.

Watermelon Radish

Watermelon Radish

Paired with some dragon carrots and arugula, they made quite an attractive salad.

Arugula with Dragon Carrots and Watermelon Radish

Arugula with Dragon Carrots and Watermelon Radish

Now, back to the serious subject of tomato sauce. I had some Mexican oregano I planned to use, and my new supply of Miguel and Valentino Smoked Extra Virgin Olive Oil had just arrived a couple of days before. So I was all set to make tomato sauce. As I was cutting up the tomatoes, I tried small bits of the Far Out Gardens heirloom paste tomatoes. Had anyone walked in on me at that time, they would have heard me loudly talking to myself, exclaiming with disbelief at how incredibly AWESOME these tomatoes were. I’m serious. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever had tomatoes with this much concentrated flavor. I think that was a large part of why this tomato sauce turned out so well.

There were a few other things which I believe contributed to the great taste of the sauce. I used a whole head of garlic (which was labelled as being a strongly flavored type). The smoked olive oil contributed a bit of smokiness, and I think the Mexican oregano was a big factor as well. Mexican oregano is not actually oregano (which a member of the mint family), but is a member of the verbena family. It’s much stronger than Mediterranean oregano, and not as sweet. I made a dish a couple of weeks ago that had a disappointing absence of taste. I added a couple of teaspoons of Mexican oregano and a little salt, and it was like magic – it completely turned the dish around, and it ended up being great. So anyhow, this recipe for tomato sauce is one I’ll repeat.

I’ve always thought that spaghetti squash was kind of a crazy vegetable. How strange is it that you can bake a squash, take the seeds out, then run a fork down it and have it form little strands? It’s got a fairly mild taste, so it’s perfect for tomato sauce. And if you’re looking for a filling, lower calorie meal, it’s a great substitute for pasta.

Spaghetti Squash Strands

Spaghetti Squash Strands

Spaghetti Squash and Heirloom Tomato Sauce Ingredients

Spaghetti Squash and Heirloom Tomato Sauce Ingredients

Spaghetti Squash with Heirloom Tomato Sauce
serves 2-3 (plus a little extra sauce)

1 large spaghetti squash
3 lbs heirloom tomatoes (ideally paste tomatoes)
1 medium onion, chopped
1 head of garlic, peeled and minced
1 Tbsp smoked olive oil
1/2 to 1 tsp sugar
1 to 1+1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp dried Mexican oregano
fresh ground pepper
pecorino romano

Pierce the spaghetti squash multiple times with a sharp knife, place in a baking pan (or just something to catch drips), and bake in the oven at 375 degrees for 45-60 minutes (until the flesh is tender).

While the squash is cooking, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. (If you don’t have a skillet that will be large enough when you add all the tomatoes, you can use a stockpot instead.) Sauté the garlic for about 30 seconds, and then add the onion. Sauté until the onions are translucent. Add the tomatoes, and increase heat to medium high to bring to a simmer. Adjust heat as necessary to keep the tomatoes cooking at a vigorous simmer. (If that isn’t a real cooking term, it should be – you don’t want it to boil and splatter, but you want a lot of the liquid to cook off, so simmer it vigorously). I generally kept the heat between medium and medium high. After the tomatoes have mostly broken down and turned to liquid, add the oregano and 4 grinds of pepper. Then add 1 tsp of salt and 1/2 tsp of sugar, and taste the sauce. Add more sugar and/or salt if desired. Continue to cook until the sauce has thickened to your desired consistency. I cooked it for about 30 minutes from the time I added the tomatoes. If the squash is nearly done, reduce the heat for the tomatoes to low. If the squash still has a while to cook, just turn the heat off and reheat the sauce closer to when the squash is ready.

Heirloom Tomato Sauce During and After Cooking

Heirloom Tomato Sauce During and After Cooking

Remove the spaghetti squash from the oven, and place on a cutting board. Being careful to avoid steam burns, cut the squash in half lengthwise. Remove the seeds and loose pulp with a large spoon. Using a fork, run the tines down the length of the inside of the squash. As you do so, the flesh will come out in a clump of strands, which is your spaghetti. Place in bowls, add sauce, and top with freshly grated pecorino romano.

Spaghetti Squash with Heirloom Tomato Sauce

Spaghetti Squash with Heirloom Tomato Sauce

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